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A dash of winter sunshine...

For use with Mary Larham gardening column
For use with Mary Larham gardening column

Writing this with the sunlight filtering through the palm trees, bougainvillea and hibiscus blooms in vibrant, exotic shades of deep red, magenta pink, rich purple….

Sorry, not dreaming – but having a much-needed break in the Canary Islands! But it also gives me some fodder for the next few articles as I am sure that many readers travel to warmer climes and are just as mesmerised as me with the ‘exotic’ plants only a few hours travel away.

I am not a seasoned traveller. Far from it. This is only the fourth time I have left our shores (unless you count a day trip from School Camp to France in 1969). And although it was a holiday, I found it difficult to persuade the camera not to focus on the ‘native’ flora; to see how many plants I can correctly name, and to identify any that I cannot. Sad, eh?

Actually I have to confess to being quite impressed with my ‘plants of the Canaries’ identification skills. I am familiar with many of the trees that line the streets, but as ‘houseplants’.

Rubber plants (Ficus elastica), Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina), and many species of Palm are their equivalent of our Silver Birch, Rowan and Flowering Cherries. I used to think that the Weeping Fig was so named because of the tears shed by those of us whose homes do not seem to suit it – invariably finding more leaves on the floor than holding on to its twiggy branches.

So to see them growing healthily outdoors as substantial street trees some 25 ft. tall, or being neatly clipped into lollipop topiary as we would Yew or Box, makes me wonder why I subject them to the vagaries of our central heating.

Other plants I have grown for years – but have to treat them as tender perennials. Often sold as ‘patio plants’ they require winter protection in this country, or are treated as disposable and thrown away at the end of summer.

Aloes and Agaves, as well as the more exotic looking Bougainvillea, Hibiscus, ‘Birds of Paradise’ (Strelitzia) are used as we might use Cotoneaster, Euonymus and Berberis in our gardens.

Osteospermum, Pelargoniums and Delosperma are fully hardy, offering all-year-round ground cover and colour. Envious – you bet!

However just as many of our commonly grown garden plants are not ‘British’, very few of the plants in the Canaries are indigenous to these islands – although some, such as the Prickly Pear are now happily naturalised.

Over the next few weeks I will be introducing a few of the plants commonly found not just on the Canary Islands, but around the Mediterranean and other warm temperate and sub-tropical countries around the world.

Thousands of years of travel and exploration have led to plants being relocated for use as food, fuel, building, medicines and so on – as well as the aesthetic pleasures gained from their floral beauty, scent and form.

Many have been dispersed around the globe, far from their place of origin. Even their names can mislead: the Prickly Pear mentioned earlier, Opuntia ficus-indica, whose species name is a direct translation of the common name, Indian Fig, is naturalised, as well as cultivated, throughout the Mediterranean as well as the Canaries – but most likely originated in Mexico. Happy New Year.

n Manea School of Gardening (RHS Approved Centre)

RHS Courses taught at all levels. Please email for details.

Website: www.maneaschoolofgardening.org

Email: msog@btinternet.com

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